A client had called because a small stack of meal trays had not sealed properly. Our client was angry because it leaked and messed up his delivery bags. He was very upset.

Our coordinator did not know what to say  She became defensive because it had never happened before. She tried to convince him that this was exceptional.  He raised his tone.  She became even more defensive.   Despite saying the “right things”, she fueled a fiery exchange. I ended up taking the call, calming the client, offered a solution and all was well.  I had just followed my little system, developed after thousands of client calls handled early in my career, and hundreds of employees later on in coaching session.

How does one handle a client’s concern with effectiveness and grace?

Follow the Sherpa’s way in 4 easy steps:

1. Listen actively

A client calls with a complaint? Switch to listen mode immediately, without judgment or any reaction other than listening with verbal cues such as “han han”, “Yes” and peppered with the usual journalistic questions (What, Where, When, How).

At this stage you are a journalist uncovering an important story, so take notes, pay attention, probe for more information on the issue.  Do it until he/she sighs or runs out of words. Literally.

2. Recap the concern

Now, read your notes and recap the concern by using the client’s same words. Do not attempt to justify or explain why things happened that way. Now is not the time for this.  Now is the time to make sure you really paid attention.

At this stage, you are a reporter reporting what was learned.  By doing so you are validating the client’s need to be heard as well as making you he/she expressed everything related to the issue.

3. Acknowledge the frustration

By now, the client has calmed down, guaranteed.  You are ready to acknowledge the frustration.  Verbalise how the client is right in being frustrated with what happened.  He may be responsible for his demise or he may be very unrealistic but he has a right to be frustrated because there is a gap between reality and his expectations.

At this stage, you are a columnist, commenting on the difficulties of a client’s experience with your company.  Yes, as if this totally unrelated to you. That trick of detachment will help anyone use these steps with grace.

4. Explore options for a solution

The client has emptied his proverbial bag of frustrations, felt heard and finally validated by your acknowledgement.  His emotions most probably have evolved from angst to collaboration. It is time to explore why this issue might have happened, and what options are available to repair the initial damage and avoid a reoccurrence.

Now, you are an author, drafting the turnaround story and adapting it to your one-person audience.  You are in a creative mode and brainstorm with the clients until you find a storyline that fits the client’s expectations AND your available solutions.  You might be limited with what you can do but with creativity, you will find common grounds.

The secret to these 4 simple steps have to do with expressing intent in a powerful way.

  • Listening actively without judgement grants him full authority on the issue.
  • Recapping precisely  in his words honours him with a noticeable attention.
  • Acknowledging his issue legitimizes his effort to raise the concern in the first place.
  • Exploring options with him confirms our intent to do something about it in a creative and inclusive way.

Unfortunately, our client in this story actually triggered 2 concerns in one call: The leaking trays and the lack of empathy from our coordinator. By using these easy and proven 4 steps, there was nothing to write home about by the end of the call.

After that call, I spent some time-sharing this insight with my coordinator. She had seen the magic and was a believer.  In the following months, she became a meister of concern calls.

I suspect she was craving them too…

How well does your team handle client concerns?

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